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In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” However, in my Tale of Three Cities, it was only the best of times. In March 2017, I spent a week visiting three cities in Europe thanks to a flight deal to Paris, France. My friend and I flew into Paris and stayed there for a few days. Then we took the train to Brussels, Belgium, followed later by another train to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and eventually made our way back to Paris. As followers of this blog, you know about my passion for transportation even on vacation. In a multiple part series, I will reflect on my experience biking, walking, and using public transit (rail and bus) in each city. For the first post, I will discuss moving around Paris.

During my time in Paris, I mostly walked and used public transit. Although Paris has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks, I chose not to bike while I was there because walking was more convenient and people drive aggressively. The popular tourist locations are spread around the city in different arrodissements (political districts) and the easiest way to move between the tourist areas was transit. When I wasn’t on public transit, I was walking to get to the museum or tourist location. Each day, I walked over 20,000 steps according to my phone app.

My transportation takeaways from Paris are:

Make it Easy for Visitors

Unlike other tourists’ cities that I have visited or lived including the District of Columbia, Paris makes it easy for visitors to move around.  Prior to arriving I purchased a 48-hour Paris Pass, which included unlimited rides on the transit system. For the time my pass was activated, it made using the transit system seamless. I did not have to worry about loading any money or trying to figure out the cost of my fare. It also encouraged me to use transit over taxis or rideshare to be able to take advantage of my pass.

Despite not speaking French beyond basic greetings, I easily navigated the transit system. Like other transit systems, multiple train lines with different destinations serviced the same platform. In Paris, real time digital transit signs provided information on all the stops on the next train’s route to prevent people from getting on the wrong train. In addition, it gave an actual time of arrival versus a generic 5 minutes as seen in most cities’ transit systems.

Although the wayfinding through the transit stations was overkill, I didn’t get lost, so they met their objective. In all the transit stations, the exits were numbered. Therefore, when GoogleMaps directions told me to use exit 5, all I had to do was look for exit 5. While that seems like a minor detail, when you don’t know the country’s native language it is much easier than trying to match words. When I came out of the transit stations, there was pedestrian scale signage to guide me where to go next, especially in the tourist areas.

Some Streets are for People

For periods of the day, some streets in Paris converted to walking and biking only streets. They were generally narrow, cobblestoned streets with retail and restaurants along the sides. Most of the restaurants had outdoor seating, which made for prime people watching (one of my favorite things to do). Although people could bike on these streets, it was a challenge given the volume of people walking and the cobblestones.

Outside of the walking and biking only streets, Paris had bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and contraflow lanes in roundabouts and one-way streets. However, on multimodal streets, people drive dangerously. With the traffic congestion, no one drove particularly fast, but they make sudden and aggressive movements to get in front of another driver without paying much attention to people biking. Hence, why I did not bike while I was there.

It’s the little things

There were little things about Paris that made for a great environment for moving around. As someone who is always on the search for somewhere to charge my cellphone, having a USB port at the bus stop was a small amenity with big value. Another small thing is that I could easily distinguish which taxis were on duty based on their lights. The taxis with green lights were available and red lights were unavailable. Again, helping the tourist effectively navigate the transportation system without knowing the native language.

In the next post, I’ll discuss moving around Brussels, Belgium.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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